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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Katherine Dunham: Choreographic Innovator 1909-2006

GIRL6's report continues:
After 1967 Ms Dunham, herself, lived most of each year in predominantly black East St. Louis, Ill., where she struggled to bring the arts to a Mississippi River city of burned-out buildings and high crime.She set up an eclectic compound of artists from around the globe, including Harry Belafonte. Among the free classes offered were dance, African hair braiding and woodcarving, conversational Creole, Spanish, French and Swahili and more traditional subjects such as aesthetics and social science.Martial arts training is also offered. Dunham had hopes of getting young, angry males off the street. Her purpose, she said, was to steer the residents of East St. Louis "into something more constructive than genocide."

"It's embarrassing to be an American," Dunham said in 1992 when she made headlines during her 47 day hunger strike to protest U.S. policy that repatriated Haitian refugees.

Ms. Dunham was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1983, and she was named one of the first 100 of “America’s Irreplaceable Dance Treasures” by the Dance Heritage Coalition in 2001.

Also,in 2001 the Library of Congress of the United States announced it had received a $1 million grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to support a two-year program to support the Katherine Dunham Legacy Project at the Library of Congress. The purpose of the project was to purchase the Katherine Dunham archives; to preserve materials that document and augment the Dunham legacy; and to expand educational programs.

In her later years, she depended on grants and the kindness of celebrities, like Will Smith and Harry Belafonte, artists and former students to help pay for her day-to-day expenses.

According to Charlotte Ottley, executive liaison for the organization that preserves her artistic estate, Dunham died Sunday at the Manhattan assisted living facility where she lived. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Katherine Dunham was married to theater designer John Thomas Pratt for 49 years before his death in 1986.

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Anonymous Bliss said...

My, this woman was a treasure! Her life was certainly lived. What a truly beautiful soul, giving and honorable a woman. Thanks so much for this tribute. She will be long remembered and her legacy carried on I am sure.

1:08 AM


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